Is blockchain really the enemy?

It happened. They did it again. Someone described the blockchain as a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist in order to sell someone on the idea of buying into the fad, and now everyone is angry. We really should’ve seen this coming – I suppose – after the first six or seven hundred times it happened. So… what can we do now but form a collective voice to tell off the dude who said it, repeat the very clear reality of the situation back to them, baulk at the blatant ignorance of tech bros, and move on.

It’s a pattern that crops up time and time again, and each time it does, I can’t help but think: why are we mad at this again? I mean, yes, obviously, NFTs and the blockchain suck. I get mad at them too. They pretend to solve issues with current video game infrastructure that is almost entirely fabricated in order to justify their own existence, they’re environmentally hostile at best and destructive at worst, and they’ve proven themselves to be a breeding ground for scam artists and exploitative businesses looking to make a quick virtual buck. It’s a repeating pattern of behaviour.

I shouldn’t have to tell you how awful they are at this point, though; that’s just how it is being a game developer now. Not a day goes by without someone with a surface level understanding of what actually goes into making a video game bursts in with a blockchain-based idea which will “revolutionise the industry”, but can also be easily replicated by just using a database. But why are we mad at this? At the end of the day, is blockchain really the enemy here?

Hear me out: NFT profiteers hire Southeast Asian workers to play Axie Infinity, where they make money for some dude in America by playing a video game all day because, thanks to colonialism, the labour is cheap and easily exploitable. NFT-centric games aren’t made because they’re fun, but because a player with personal financial investment is liable to make them way more money. NFT-adopting studios oust game developers who speak out against developing blockchain-integrated content from their positions by the rich white CEOs who are chasing the path of least resistance to more money. NFT design in games hyperfixate on extracting resources from players above all else, and disregard “fun” as a part of the equation.

None of these problems are new, however, and none of it is exclusive to blockchain technology. These are problems that are endemic to our industry and the systems we’ve already been operating in for years; the blockchain just lays all these wider societal and systemic issues out on the surface where we can see them operating for what they really are.

Game companies outsource massive aspects of production to Southeast Asian workers because, thanks to colonialism, the labour is cheap and easily exploitable. They also develop video games with a laser-focus exploitative retention and engagement mechanics not because they’re fun, but because a player who falls trap to them is liable to make them way more money. Developers who speak out about their poor working conditions at game studios are removed from their position by rich white CEOs who are chasing the path of least resistance to more money. And game companies prioritise extracting resources from players above all else, and only integrate the “fun” to keep up appearances, and both game companies and NFT companies do all these things in part because the systems we live in reward profit-centric behaviour without consideration for what (or who) is being crushed by their operation – and no one has yet stopped them.

So the next time we want to get mad at the blockchain and those who support it for doing something stupid (as they surely will), I think we might do better off saving what action we can against these hidden systems of exploitation, that enabled the ethical mess that is the blockchain to spawn into existence.

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